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Most U.S. corn and cotton acreage in 2018 used genetically engineered seeds with stacked traits

Friday, July 20, 2018

Currently, over 90 percent of corn, cotton, and soybean acreage in the United States is planted with genetically engineered (GE) seeds. Most of these GE seeds are either herbicide tolerant (HT) or insect resistant (Bt). Seeds that have both HT and Bt traits are referred to as “stacked.” A decade ago, 40 percent of U.S. corn acres and 45 percent of U.S. cotton acres were planted with stacked seeds. As of 2018, 80 percent of corn acres and 82 percent of cotton acres were planted with these varieties. Soybean seeds with stacked traits are currently not commercially available in the United States. Adoption rates for stacked seeds have slowed in recent years. Adoption rates for stacked corn seeds increased by 3 percentage points from 2017 to 2018, while rates for stacked cotton increased by only 2 percentage points. The slow growth rates for stacked seeds may be due to relatively low corn prices, or because the majority of GE seeds are already stacked. This chart is drawn from the ERS data product Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., updated July 2018.

Intellectual property rights for new plant varieties have expanded

Monday, January 8, 2018

Intellectual property rights are intended to offer incentives for innovation by protecting new inventions from imitation and competition. When the modern U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was established in 1836, new plant varieties were considered products of nature and, therefore, not eligible for protection under any form of intellectual property. In 1930, asexually reproducing plants were the first to receive protection through plant patents, which have been issued primarily for fruits, tree nuts, and horticultural species. The remainder of the plant kingdom, including a broad range of commercial crops, became eligible for protection in 1970 with the introduction of plant variety protection certificates (PVPCs). However, PVPCs had exemptions for farmers to save seeds and for research uses. Full patent protection (without these exemptions) arrived in 1980 with the U.S. Supreme Court decision Diamond v. Chakrabarty. This ruling extended utility patent protection—the type of protection provided to most inventions in other areas—to plants. Despite being available for the least amount of time, annual utility patent grants for plant cultivars and lines have rapidly overtaken PVPCs and reached similar levels as plant patents. The rapid rise of utility patents mirrored the rapid rise in private research and development in the seed and agricultural biotech sector over a similar period. This chart updates data found in the ERS report Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2006 Edition.

Technological innovations have increased corn yields

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

With less labor and land being used in production over time, U.S. agriculture depends on raising the productivity of these resources for growth. Average national corn yield (a productivity measure) rose from around 30 bushels per acre in the 1930s (where it stood since USDA began measuring them in the 1860s) to nearly 180 bushels per acre in the present decade. This sustained growth in productivity was driven by the development and rapid adoption of a series of successive biological, chemical, and mechanical innovations. Every few years farmers adopt the latest hybrid seed variety, for example. These seeds are likely to have multiple genetically modified (GM) traits designed to protect the crop against pests and diseases or infer other valuable qualities—such as resistance to the corn borer, a major insect pest of the crop. Recently, the rapid adoption of tractor guidance systems has greatly improved the speed and efficiency of tillage and planting operations and the precision of seed, fertilizer, and pesticide applications. By 2010, such systems were used on 45 percent of corn planted acres. This chart updates data found in the ERS report, The Seed Industry in U.S. Agriculture: An Exploration of Data and Information on Crop Seed Markets, Regulation, Industry Structure, and Research and Development, released February 2004.

Most GE corn and cotton seeds now have both herbicide tolerance and insect resistance

Monday, July 31, 2017

Genetically engineered (GE) seeds have become widely used in major field crop production in the United States. Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops were developed to survive the application of certain herbicides (such as glyphosate and glufosinate) that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds. Insect-resistant crops contain a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that produces a protein that is toxic to specific insects. Seeds that have both herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant traits are referred to as “stacked.” Three crops (corn, cotton, and soybeans) make up the bulk of the acres planted to GE crops. Recent data show that the adoption of stacked corn varieties has increased sharply, from 9 percent of U.S. corn acres in 2005 to 77 percent in 2017. Adoption rates for stacked cotton varieties have also grown rapidly, from 34 percent in 2005 to 80 percent in 2017 (soybeans have only HT varieties). Generally, many different GE traits can be stacked; varieties with three or four GE traits are now common in U.S. corn and cotton production. This chart is drawn from the ERS data product Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S.

Herbicide-tolerant sugarbeets accounted for 98 percent of sugarbeet acreage by 2013

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The United States produced about 8 million metric tons of sugar in 2013. Over half of that sugar came from sugarbeets. However, weed infestations can reduce yields, lower forage quality, and increase the severity of insect infestations. Compared to conventional sugarbeets, planting genetically engineered, herbicide-tolerant (GE HT) sugarbeets simplifies weed management. Specific herbicide (such as glysophate) applications kill weeds but then leave the GE HT sugarbeets growing. Studies suggest that farmers who plant GE HT sugarbeets can increase yields, while reducing the costs of weed management. Once introduced commercially in 2008, U.S. farmers adopted GE HT sugarbeets quickly. That year, farmers planted GE HT sugarbeets on about 60 percent of all sugarbeet acreage; by 2009, that number had grown to 95 percent. As of 2013, approximately 1.1 million acres of GE HT sugarbeets (98 percent of all sugarbeet acreage), with a production value of over $1.5 billion, were harvested in the United States. Minnesota, North Dakota, Idaho, and Michigan accounted for over 80 percent of sugarbeet production that year. This chart is based on the ERS report The Adoption of Genetically Engineered Alfalfa, Canola, and Sugarbeets in the United States, released November 2016.

Genetically engineered corn and cotton with both herbicide tolerance and insect resistance are now the norm

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Genetically engineered (GE) seeds are widely used in U.S. field crop production. Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops were developed to survive the application of certain herbicides that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds. Insect-resistant crops contain a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that produces a protein that is toxic to specific insects. Seeds that have both herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant traits are referred to as “stacked.” Recent data show that the adoption of stacked corn varieties has increased from 15 percent of U.S. corn acres in 2006 to 76 percent in 2016. Adoption rates for stacked cotton varieties have also grown, from 39 percent in 2006 to 80 percent in 2016. Generally, many different GE traits—each aimed at a specific herbicide or insect—can be stacked; varieties with three or four GE traits are now common. Research suggests that stacked corn seeds have higher yields than conventional seeds or seeds with only one GE trait. This chart is based on data found in the ERS data product, Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., updated July 2016.

Genetically engineered varieties of corn, cotton, and soybeans have plateaued at more than 90 percent of U.S. acreage planted with those crops

Monday, July 25, 2016

U.S. soybeans, cotton and corn farmers have nearly universally adopted genetically engineered (GE) seeds in recent years, despite their typically higher prices. Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, developed to survive the application of specific herbicides that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds, provide farmers with a broader variety of options for weed control. Insect-resistant crops (Bt) contain a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis that produces a protein toxic to specific insects, protecting the plant over its entire life. “Stacked” seed varieties carry both HT and Bt traits, and now account for a large majority of GE corn and cotton seeds. In 2016, adoption of GE varieties, including those with herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, or stacked traits, accounted for 94 percent of soybean acreage (soybeans have only HT varieties), 93 percent of cotton acreage, and 92 percent of corn acreage planted in the United States. This chart is found in the ERS data product, Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., updated July 2016.

U.S. corn and soybean farmers use a wide variety of glyphosate resistance management practices

Monday, May 2, 2016

For weed control, U.S. corn and soybean farmers rely on chemical herbicides which were applied to more than 95 percent of U.S. corn acres in 2010 and soybean acres in 2012. Over the course of the last two decades, U.S. corn and soybean farmers have increased their use of glyphosate (the active ingredient in herbicide products such as Roundup) and decreased their use of herbicide products containing other active ingredients. This shift contributed to the development of over 14 glyphosate-resistant weed species in U.S. crop production areas. Glyphosate resistance management practices (RMPs) include herbicide rotation, tillage, scouting for weeds, and other forms of weed control. In some cases, ERS found that usage rates for RMPs increased from 1996 to 2012. In other cases, RMP use dropped from 1996 to 2005/06 but increased as information about glyphosate-resistant weeds spread. For example, herbicides other than glyphosate were applied on 93 percent of planted soybean acres in 1996, 29 percent in 2006, and then 56 percent in 2012. This chart is found in the April 2016 Amber Waves finding, “U.S. Corn and Soybean Farmers Apply a Wide Variety of Glyphosate Resistance Management Practices.”

Verified non-genetically engineered products see steady increase since 2010

Monday, April 4, 2016

Genetically engineered (GE) crops are now widely used to produce breakfast cereals, corn chips, soy protein bars, and other processed foods and food ingredients, and a market for foods produced without crops grown from GE seed has emerged. The Non-GMO Project is a private group that provides verification services for products made according to best practices for genetically modified organism (GMO) avoidance. In 2014, the Non-GMO Project Verified label appeared on nearly 12,500 products with unique universal product codes (UPC), up from fewer than 1,000 in 2010. Many of the food products verified under this protocol, and bearing the Non-GMO Project Verified butterfly logo, are not at risk of GE contamination: that is, they do not contain corn, soybeans, or other crops for which GE varieties are available. Also, over half of the products verified under this protocol are certified organic under USDA’s organic regulations, which already prohibit the use of genetic engineering in organic production and processing. Non-GMO Project Verified labeling currently accounts for most of the conventionally grown U.S. products that are non-GE verified. This chart appears in the ERS report, Economic Issues in the Coexistence of Organic, Genetically Engineered (GE), and Non-GE Crops, February 2016.

Stacked GE varieties of corn have become commonplace

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

U.S. farmers have embraced genetically engineered (GE) seeds in the 20 years since their commercial introduction. Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, developed to survive application of specific herbicides that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds, provide farmers with a broader variety of options for effective weed control. Insect-resistant crops contain a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that produces a protein that is toxic to specific insects, protecting the plant over its entire life. Seeds that have both herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant traits are referred to as “stacked.” Based on USDA survey data, adoption of stacked GE corn varieties has increased sharply, reaching 77 percent of planted corn acres in 2015. Conversely, use of Bt-only corn dropped from 27 percent of planted corn acreage in 2004 to 4 percent in 2015, while HT-only corn dropped from 24 percent of planted corn acreage in 2007 to 12 percent in 2015. Generally, stacked seeds (seeds with more than one GE trait) tend to have higher yields than conventional seeds or seeds with only one GE trait. This chart is based on the ERS data product, Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., updated July 2015.

Corn and soybean returns are highest when growers and their neighbors manage glyphosate resistance

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Glyphosate, also known by the trade name Roundup, is the most widely used herbicide in the United States. Widespread and exclusive use of glyphosate, without other weed control strategies, can induce resistance to the herbicide by controlling susceptible weeds while allowing more resistant weeds to survive, propagate, and spread. Resistant weed seeds can disperse across fields—carried by animals, equipment, people, wind, and water. Consequently, controlling weed resistance depends on the joint actions of farmers and their neighbors. ERS analyses evaluated the long-term financial returns to growers who adopt weed control practices that aim to slow resistance to glyphosate, and compared those returns when neighboring farmers also manage to slow resistance. Projected net returns (annualized over 20 years) for growers who manage resistance generally exceed returns for growers who ignore resistance; they are even higher when neighbors also manage resistance. Projected net returns for growers with neighbors who also manage resistance range 18-20 percent higher than those of growers/neighbors who ignore resistance. This chart visualizes data found in the Amber Waves feature, “Managing Glyphosate Resistance May Sustain Its Efficacy and Increase Long-Term Returns to Corn and Soybean Production,” May 2015.

Genetically engineered seeds planted on over 90 percent of U.S. corn, cotton, and soybean acres in 2015

Monday, July 20, 2015

U.S. farmers have adopted genetically engineered (GE) seeds in the 20 years since their commercial introduction, despite their typically higher prices. Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, developed to survive the application of specific herbicides that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds, provide farmers with a broader variety of options for weed control. Insect-resistant crops (Bt) contain a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis that produces a protein toxic to specific insects, protecting the plant over its entire life. “Stacked” seed varieties carry both HT and Bt traits, and now account for a large majority of GE corn and cotton seeds. In 2015, adoption of GE varieties, including those with herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, or stacked traits, accounted for 94 percent of cotton acreage, 94 percent of soybean acreage (soybeans have only HT varieties), and 92 percent of corn acreage planted in the United States. This chart is found in the ERS data product, Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., updated July 2015.

Managing glyphosate resistance is more cost effective than ignoring resistance

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Glyphosate—known by many trade names, including Roundup—has been the most widely used herbicide in the United States since 2001. Crop producers can spray entire fields planted with genetically engineered, glyphosate-tolerant (GT) seed varieties, killing the weeds but not the crops. However, widespread use of glyphosate in isolation can select for glyphosate resistance by controlling susceptible weeds while allowing more resistant weeds to survive, which can then propagate and spread. ERS analyses show that weed control strategies (over 20 years) that manage glyphosate resistance differ from those that ignore glyphosate resistance by using glyphosate during fewer years, by often combining glyphosate with one or more alternative herbicides, and by not applying glyphosate during consecutive growing seasons. Initiating resistance management reduces returns compared to ignoring resistance in the first year, but increases them in subsequent years, as the value of crop yield gains outweighs increases in weed management cost. After two consecutive years of resistance management, the cumulative impact of growers’ returns from continuous corn cultivation, corn-soybean rotation, or continuous soybean cultivation exceeds that received when resistance is ignored. This chart is found in the Amber Waves feature, “Managing Glyphosate Resistance May Sustain Its Efficacy and Increase Long-Term Returns to Corn and Soybean Production,” May 2015.

Glyphosate use is more widespread in soybean than in corn production

Monday, May 11, 2015

Recent data from the Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) suggest that glyphosate resistant weeds are more prevalent in soybean than in corn production. Glyphosate, known by many trade names (including Roundup), has been the most widely used pesticide in the United States since 2001. It effectively controls many weed species and generally costs less than the herbicides it replaced. Overall, glyphosate was used on a higher proportion of soybean than corn acres, and it was used alone (not in combination with other herbicides) on a substantially higher proportion of soybean acres. Using glyphosate alone contributes to resistance. Many soybean fields are managed with glyphosate alone, because the next best alternative herbicides are more expensive, less effective, and/or can cause significant injury to soybean plants. This chart is found in the Amber Waves feature, “Managing Glyphosate Resistance May Sustain Its Efficacy and Increase Long-Term Returns to Corn and Soybean Production,” May 2015.

Genetically engineered seeds planted on over 90 percent of U.S. corn, cotton and soybean acres

Thursday, August 7, 2014

U.S. farmers have adopted genetically engineered (GE) seeds in the 19 years since their commercial introduction, despite their typically higher seed prices. Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, developed to survive the application of specific herbicides that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds, provide farmers with a broader variety of options for weed control. Insect-resistant crops contain a gene from the soil bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) that produces a protein toxic to specific insects, protecting the plant over its entire life. “Stacked” seed varieties carry both HT and Bt traits and now account for a large majority of GE corn and cotton seeds. In 2014, adoption of GE varieties, including those with herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, or stacked traits, reached 96 percent of cotton acreage, 94 percent of soybean acreage (soybeans have only HT varieties), and 93 percent of corn acreage planted in the United States. This chart comes from the ERS data product, Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., updated July 2014.

Herbicide-tolerant (HT) soybean growers more likely to practice conservation tillage

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

By leaving at least 30 percent of crop residue covering the soil surface after all tillage and planting operations, conservation tillage (including no-till, ridge-till, and mulch-till) reduces soil erosion, increases water retention, and reduces soil degradation and water/chemical runoff. Conservation tillage also reduces the carbon footprint of agriculture. By 2006, approximately 86 percent of land planted with herbicide tolerant (HT) soybeans was under conservation tillage, compared to only 36 percent of conventional soybean acres. Differences in the use of no-till were just as pronounced. While approximately 45 percent of HT soybean acres were cultivated using no-till technologies in 2006, only 5 percent of the acres planted with conventional seeds were cultivated using no-till techniques, which are often considered the most effective of all conservation tillage systems. Cotton and corn data exhibit similar, though less pronounced, patterns. This chart is found in “Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops by U.S. Farmers Has Increased Steadily for Over 15 Years” in the March 2014 Amber Waves online magazine.

Adoption of insect-resistant GE corn varies by region

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Genetically engineered (GE) crops are being developed with various traits; the most widely-adopted GE crops to date are designed to help farmers control insect and weed pests. To control insect damage, Bt corn is genetically engineered to carry the gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which produces a protein that is toxic when ingested by certain insects. Bt corn with traits to control the European corn borer was introduced commercially in 1996, with additional traits to control other types of insects introduced beginning in 2003. Farmers planting Bt crops benefit from decreased dependence on weather conditions affecting the timing and effectiveness of traditional insecticide applications because the Bt toxin remains active in the plant throughout the crop year. By improving pest control, Bt corn produces higher yields when pest infestation is a problem. More than 60 percent of U.S. corn farmers planted Bt corn in 2010 in response to the threat of highly localized insect infestations. This chart is found in the ERS report, Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States, ERR-162, February 2014.

Genetically engineered (GE) crops incorporate a diverse set of traits

Monday, March 31, 2014

The successful commercialization of GE varieties culminates earlier research and development (R&D) efforts in agricultural biotechnology. One measure of previous and ongoing R&D activity is the number of field releases for testing of GE varieties approved by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). As of September 2013, about 7,800 releases were approved for GE corn, more than 2,200 for GE soybeans, more than 1,100 for GE cotton, and about 900 for GE potatoes. Field releases were approved for GE varieties with herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, product quality such as flavor or nutrition, agronomic properties like drought resistance, and virus/fungal resistance. After successful field testing, deregulation allows seed companies to commercialize the seeds that they have developed. As of September 2013, APHIS had received 145 petitions for deregulation and had approved 96 petitions after having determined that the organism (i.e., the GE plant) is unlikely to pose a plant pest risk. In addition to corn, cotton, and soybeans, APHIS has approved petitions for deregulation for GE varieties of tomatoes, rapeseed/canola, potatoes, sugarbeets, papaya, rice, squash, alfalfa, plum, rose, tobacco, flax, and chicory. This chart is found in “Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops by U.S. Farmers Has Increased Steadily for Over 15 Years” in the March 2014 edition of Amber Waves online magazine.

Insect resistant GE crops may have area-wide insect suppression benefits

Monday, March 17, 2014

Since their first successful commercial introduction in the United States in 1996, genetically engineered (GE) seeds have been widely adopted by U.S. corn, cotton, and soybean farmers. In 2013, 169 million acres of GE corn, cotton, and soybean were planted, accounting for about half of U.S. land used for crops. One trait engineered into GE corn and cotton is resistance to certain insects (by introducing a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)), protecting the plant over its entire life cycle. Bt corn was planted on 19 percent of corn acres in 2000, 35 percent in 2005, and 76 percent in 2013. Over this period, insecticide use on corn has declined for both Bt adopters and nonadopters. These trends are consistent with research findings that area-wide suppression of certain insects is associated with Bt crop use, benefiting not only Bt adopters but non-adopters as well. However, there are some recent indications that insect resistance is developing to some Bt traits in some areas, which may increase insecticide use compared to the 2010 low levels. This chart can be found in Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States, ERR-162, February 2014.

Adoption of "stacked" GE varieties of corn jumps in 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

U.S. farmers have embraced genetically engineered (GE) seeds in the more than 15 years since their commercial introduction. Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, developed to survive application of specific herbicides that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds, provide farmers with a broader variety of options for effective weed control. Based on USDA survey data, HT-only corn dropped from 21 percent of planted corn acreage in 2012 to 14 percent in 2013. Insect-resistant crops contain a gene from the soil bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) that produces a protein that is toxic to specific insects, protecting the plant over its entire life. Use of Bt-only corn dropped from around 16 percent of planted corn acreage in recent years to 5 percent in 2013. Adoption of “stacked” gene corn varieties (with both HT and Bt traits), though, increased sharply in 2013, reaching 71 percent of planted corn acres (up from 52 percent in 2012). Adoption of all GE corn, taking into account the acreage with either or both HT and Bt traits, reached 90 percent of U.S. corn acreage in 2013. This chart comes from the ERS data product, Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., updated July 2013.

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